Researchers at the University of Minnesota are suggesting that composting horse carcasses may be a feasible, eco-friendly option.
Starting last July, a team led by professor Krishona Martinson began studying the impacts of horse carcass composting as a means of disposal, as the current alternatives ‒ burial, cremation and rendering ‒ can be difficult, expensive, or not an option at all. For example, burying a horse involves heavy equipment and abiding by rules such as distance from bedrock and water sources of water. It may also not be possible in the winter when the ground is frozen, or if local bylaws prohibit it. Cremation is preferable, but can be expensive (up to $1500 or more depending on weight). Rendering means the body is taken to a facility where it will be processed for pet food, but in Minnesota, for instance, since most horses are put down using chemical euthanasia, they can no longer be accepted for food products because of the contamination. And finally, some landfills will accept dead horses (again, on a per-pound basis), but most horse owners would agree that is hardly the place they would like to see their beloved partners end up!
Composting, on the other hand, is easy, inexpensive, has many positive benefits for the soil and may be perceived as a much more dignified way to celebrate a horse’s life. The carcass is laid on a concrete slab which has been covered with a base layer of wood chips and wood shavings to allow for airflow. The horse is buried in a mixture of manure and bedding, providing the nutrient-rich microbes necessary for composting. Research indicates that a horse can decompose in as little as 10 weeks, and the method works in the winter as well.
While there are currently no commercial facilities for horse composting, this research could lead to their development. More info about the horse composting study is available through the UMN Extension here.